By Colin Wilson
Key Business Advisors Director
The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index this month increased by 7.7 percentage points to 108.3, which means consumer confidence is at a two-year high1. Still, there are those in the retail sector who are expecting 2013 to be a tough year. Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman has been reported as saying that retail conditions remain tough, and two surveys released this week show that small businesses have been struggling2.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s small business survey showed a contraction in the sector, with the conditions index dropping from 40.7 in the third quarter of 2012 to 40.5 in the December quarter. Meanwhile, majority of the National Australia Bank’s SME survey respondents reported weakening conditions in the last quarter of 2012.
So what’s the real deal – should businesses brace for some belt-tightening by consumers, or gear up for an increase in sales and profits?
The truth is, it doesn’t matter much whether economic forecasts are positive or doom and gloom. Retail businesses that have the wow factor are always the ones that reap the rewards during both the lean times and the boom times.
Do you, your staff and everything about your retail business wow each customer every time? If you want your customers to be very impressed and not only come back to you but also tell their family, friends and colleagues about your business, then you need to provide excellent customer service all the time.
Advice: Show the customer that you’re genuinely interested in helping them, not just in closing the sale. Practise active listening to increase understanding and build rapport with the customer. Be aware of the customer’s verbal and nonverbal communication buying signals so you always know whether or not you’re on the right track.
You can’t provide excellent customer service without having outstanding product knowledge. With a highly competitive retail market and an increasing number of consumers who turn to online shopping not only to pay less but also to more easily compare products, you need to know your and your competitors’ product line-up inside out. You can’t afford to be caught out when a customer walks into your store knowing more about the product they want to buy because they’ve already done their research or because they can do a quick Google search on their smartphone or tablet while they are in your store.
When you understand your customer’s needs and your products’ features, advantages and benefits, then you would be able to provide options and make suggestions to help the customer get what they are looking for. Doing so allows you to provide each customer a personalised service, which would make it easier for the customer to buy from you. Making sure that customers are happy after they buy from you will put you and your store at the top of the customer’s mind the next time they or their family and friends are shopping for other products that you offer.
1Michael Janda (13 February 2013). “Consumer confidence jumps to two-year high”. Retrieved 19-02-2013.
2Colin Brinsden (18 February 2013). “Dismal small businesses need RBA help”. Retrieved 20-02-2013.